The best books to inspire simple living

Emrys Westacott Author Of The Wisdom of Frugality: Why Less Is More - More or Less
By Emrys Westacott

Who am I?

I am a philosopher who is especially interested in relating philosophy to everyday life. So I like to ask–and try to answer– questions such as: Why is frugality considered a moral virtue? Are there times when rudeness is justified? What makes some kinds of work shameful? I earned my Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Texas at Austin and am currently a Professor of Philosophy at Alfred University in Alfred, New York.

I wrote...

The Wisdom of Frugality: Why Less Is More - More or Less

By Emrys Westacott,

Book cover of The Wisdom of Frugality: Why Less Is More - More or Less

What is my book about?

From Socrates to Thoreau, most philosophers, moralists, and religious leaders have seen frugality as a virtue and have associated simple living with wisdom, integrity, and happiness. But why? And are they right? Is a taste for luxury fundamentally misguided? If one has the means to be a spendthrift, is it foolish or reprehensible to be extravagant?

In this book, Emrys Westacott examines why, for more than two millennia, so many philosophers and people with a reputation for wisdom have been advocating frugality and simple living as the key to the good life. He also looks at why most people have ignored them, but argues that, in a world facing an environmental crisis, it may finally be time to listen to the advocates of a simpler way of life.

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The books I picked & why

Walden: Life in the Woods

By Henry David Thoreau,

Book cover of Walden: Life in the Woods

Why did I love this book?

In 1845 Thoreau built a small cabin on land owned by his friend, the philosopher and poet Ralph Waldo Emerson, and conducted a two-year experiment in simple living. Walden is his account of this experiment. It's a hard book to summarize since, although quite short, it combines memoir, philosophical reflection, natural history, and social commentary. But it is beautifully written, and it has been an inspiration to countless readers who, like Thoreau, believe that we can deepen our experience of life by drawing closer to what is natural and elemental, reducing our dependency on things and, at least for a time, on other people. The book is required reading for anyone who delights in nature, is sympathetic to a philosophy of simple living, and who, like Thoreau, wishes "to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life."

By Henry David Thoreau,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Walden as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Henry David Thoreau is considered one of the leading figures in early American literature, and Walden is without doubt his most influential book.

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It recounts the author's experiences living in a small house in the woods around Walden Pond near Concord in Massachusetts. Thoreau constructed the house himself, with the help of a few friends, to see if he could live 'deliberately' - independently and apart from society. The…

Book cover of A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy

Why did I love this book?

Stoicism is a philosophy that is primarily concerned with the practical question of how one should live. It was popular in ancient Rome but has largely been out of favour in modern times. William Irvine does a really fine job both of explaining the Stoic perspective on life and of arguing that it still has much to offer to us today. In this book he teaches specific techniques that can help us achieve the sort of contentment that the Stoics identified with happiness. For instance, imagining the loss of what we currently have can foster gratitude for our good fortune in possessing it; focusing on performing our best rather than on achieving some external goal makes us less vulnerable to disappointment due to factors beyond our control. In an especially interesting section, Irvine argues that even if, due to human evolution, certain traits such as the desire for higher status or the fear of death have become ingrained in us, we can use our rationality to become aware of this and, ultimately, to override our evolutionary programming and focus on what will bring us genuine happiness.. Irvine writes with exceptional clarity. I've used this book in philosophy courses more than once, and several students have told me that they enjoyed it so much that they bought an extra copy to give to a friend or family member as a gift.

By William B. Irvine,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked A Guide to the Good Life as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

One of the great fears many of us face is that despite all our effort and striving, we will discover at the end that we have wasted our life. In A Guide to the Good Life, William B. Irvine plumbs the wisdom of Stoic philosophy, one of the most popular and successful schools of thought in ancient Rome, and shows how its insight and advice are still remarkably applicable to modern lives.

In A Guide to the Good Life, Irvine offers a refreshing presentation of Stoicism, showing how this ancient philosophy can still direct us toward a better life. Using…

Book cover of The Overspent American: Why We Want What We Don't Need

Why did I love this book?

Juliet Schor has written several books that examine the social pressures that lead people to work harder than they want to, spend more than they have, and live in ways that fail to make them happy. The Overspent American focuses particularly on how an excessive concern with social status fuels consumerism and, for many people, oppressive levels of debt. Schor combines rigorous research with a lucid style. She actually makes social science enjoyable to read! And I find her work isn't just enlightening about the society we live in; it can also help us to become more self-aware about the sort of influences, concerns, and desires that we inevitably absorb from our cultural environment. The book is not a mere critique, though. Towards the end, it describes an emerging trend toward voluntary "downshifting" by people drawn towards simpler living as a way of bringing their daily lives more in line with their basic values.

By Juliet B. Schor,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Overspent American as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

An in-depth look at the corruption of the American Dream, the follow-up to the the Overworked American examines the consumer lives of Americans and the pitfalls of keeping up with the Joneses. Schor explains how and why the purchases of others in our social and professional communities can put pressure on us to spend more than we can afford to, how television viewing can undermine our ability to save, and why even households with good incomes have taken on so much debt for so many products they dont need and often dont even want.

How Much Is Enough?: Money and the Good Life

By Robert Skidelsky, Edward Skidelsky,

Book cover of How Much Is Enough?: Money and the Good Life

Why did I love this book?

Philosophies of simple living are often addressed primarily to the individuals who is seeking happiness. This is largely true, for instance, of both Epicureanism and Stoicism. How Much Is Enough? shows how the questions raised by such philosophies also bear on the economic policies and political culture of rich, modernized societies. The basic argument of the book is that it is foolish for these societies to strive for endless economic growth. They are already wealthy enough to provide the basic conditions of the good life for all their citizens, including a radical reduction in the hours that people need to work. But this isn't happening because capitalism continually inflames people's misguided desire for more stuff and higher status. So the machine just keeps on pointlessly creating desires while plutocrats keep creaming off the wealth of society which could otherwise be distributed more equitably and more rationally. The book offers a highly readable history of the relevant theories and concepts while highlighting important connections between the personal and the political.

By Robert Skidelsky, Edward Skidelsky,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked How Much Is Enough? as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A provocative and timely call for a moral approach to economics, drawing on philosophers, political theorists, writers, and economists from Aristotle to Marx to Keynes

   What constitutes the good life? What is the true value of money? Why
do we work such long hours merely to acquire greater wealth? These
are some of the questions that many asked themselves when the
financial system crashed in 2008. This book tackles such questions
   The authors begin with the great economist John Maynard Keynes.
In 1930 Keynes predicted that, within a century, per capita income
would steadily rise, people’s basic needs would…

Book cover of The Complete Tightwad Gazette: Promoting Thrift as a Viable Alternative Lifestyle

Why did I love this book?

This is an entirely different kind of book to those listed above. From 1990 to 1996 Amy Dacyczyn, a self-styled "frugal zealot," put out a monthly newsletter, The Tightwad Gazette. It contained all sorts of tips, tricks, strategies, and advice on how to pinch pennies. This book brings all her articles together in a single volume. For anyone committed to living simply–which usually means living cheaply–it is a goldmine. True, not all her recommendations met with my family's approval: mixing real maple syrup 50-50 with fake maple syrup received multiple thumbs down. But browsing through it is great fun, and on almost any page you'll find a salutary reminder of how you could be more frugal. And as we all know, frugality is associated with wisdom and with happiness.

By Amy Dacyczyn,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Complete Tightwad Gazette as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

At last—the long-awaited complete compendium of tightwad tips for fabulous frugal living!

In a newsletter published from May 1990 to December 1996 as well as in three enormously successful books, Amy Dacyczyn established herself as the expert of economy. Now The Complete Tightwad Gazette brings together all of her best ideas and thriftiest thinking into one volume, along with new articles never published before in book format. Dacyczyn describes this collection as "the book I wish I'd had when I began my adult life." Packed with humor, creativity, and insight, The Complete Tightwad Gazette includes hundreds of tips for anyone…

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in simple living, personal finance, and self-actualization?

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And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

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